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Ignored discipline

March 14, 2019


THERE has been much conversation about the one million jobs that are needed annually to accommodate the increase in Pakistan’s working-age population. Many have asked what kind of jobs should be created to support socioeconomic development in the country.

The recent Labour Force Survey 2017-18 confirms that the service sector is still smaller in Pakistan compared to the agricultural sector. Though this may be a major cause for low growth rates, it is not all bad news. According to one theory, when the service sector is inefficient, there is greater opportunity for it to grow and for jobs to be created.

A look at other parts of the world shows that Scandinavia’s social democratic welfare states owe their success to investment in the sociology disciplines, which are well established in universities, as well as the aggressive introduction of jobs for sociology graduates.

Sociology promotes an understanding of all aspects of society, linking theory to research in order to come up with suggestions for social policy improvements. Ultimately, sociology graduates are needed for jobs in social and welfare services, ie research and policy planning, protection, probation, rehabilitation, education and healthcare, therapy, counselling, criminology, etc.

Sociology has been sidelined in Pakistan, perhaps due to elite interests.

In Pakistan, unemployment rates and poverty levels are critically high. The jobless largely constitute younger adults and fresh graduates. Stories of postgraduates having to earn an income through unskilled employment are on the increase. Targeting jobs in manufacturing, driven by output recovery, is difficult and have less social benefits. Instead, social welfare jobs may be comparatively easier to create; moreover, they can be permanent jobs that offer long-term stability. Work in the service sector can yield better incomes and provide greater job protection.

While planning job creation we must also consider the experiences of other developing countries. Take India’s example. India has experienced ‘jobless growth’ and rising unemployment due to lack of absorption by the service sector. People have been moving out from the agricultural sector and away from the rural areas seeking better standards of living and decent wages. The lesson is that unbridled liberalisation may lead to adverse effects. Pakistan’s government must participate in job creation in the service sector. Besides what the country needs is collective action from two fronts — for students to create a push for sociology disciplines, and for employers to create a pull through jobs in the social sector.

In a competitive and technology driven world, being professionally flexible is an asset. Since sociologists have interdisciplinary knowledge and transferable skills they are often preferred for jobs that are changing overnight due to the demands of the postmodern era. The world over, students and employers gain immensely when sociology is combined with other specialisations from the social sciences, humanities and even the natural sciences.

Meanwhile, the Labour Force Survey 2017-18 highlights that women are underrepresented in the workforce, constituting only 14.5 per cent of documented labour; in fact women’s participation has decreased over the last three years. Of the employed women, more than 70pc are working in farm activities or elementary work, both occupations in the informal sector. Sadly, there is no mention or record of employment categories of other marginalised groups.

It is sociology graduates, specialising in areas of gender and development, human rights, stratification and conflict, and refugee studies, who must create awareness and policy planning for gender-based equa­lity and minority ­protection. Greater research and community engagement, both a part of sociology disciplines, are needed to build awareness and tole­rance, as well as to create jobs for margi­nalised populations including women, children, the elderly, disabled and the internally displaced.

It is true that sociology has been sidelined in the country in the past, perhaps due to the elite’s interest in sustaining inequality and class-based marginalisation. The need of the hour is for the subject to emerge from the clutches of the lower status imposed on it and to gain recognition as a discipline that can be to used to break the cycle of poverty and exclusion.

There is hope for the subject with more public and private universities across different cities opening sociology departments in recent years, like the University of Okara, Quaid-i-Azam University, Fatima Jinnah Women University-Rawalpindi, UMT, and GCU Lahore. Now it is the turn of the market to create more jobs in the areas of social welfare, which is not only the natural course for positive development but also the necessary direction for Pakistan.

The writer is assistant professor, Forman Christian College University, Lahore.

Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2019